MAN MAN Live at Daniel Street. Milford CT. 10.12.11
Me: “Man Man tonight?”
Sam: “No no. Hated the new album.”
Me: “Why does every Man Man fan I know hate the new album? I thought it was pretty good.”
Sam: “Over produced and toned down. It is no longer wild voodoo-fever dream ramblings. I love Mike Mogis, but he was not the right man for the job.”
I’m keeping that text message conversation right here for posterity’s sake. God knows I’m going to need to reference it in a couple months when I put together my year-end albums list.
Last night I saw Man Man for the second time this year, at a show in Milford, CT. It was the first time I had been to the Daniel Street Club since late May, which was incidentally just a couple days before the first Man Man show I saw at B.O.M.B. Fest 2011 in Hartford. Despite having not been there in a while, I really think it’s one of the best venues in the state. The combination of Daniel Street’s size, atmosphere, and relative intimacy makes it perfect for engaging, high-energy indie rock shows, which was exactly what the Philadelphia-based experimental group and their supporting bands provided last night. The guys at Manic Productions were especially thoughtful to book this as an all ages show, which doesn’t happen often at Daniel Street since the venue is primarily a bar.
Last night’s show was the first on the group’s new Fall tour with Grandchildren, another Philadelphia band, but it was a Connecticut band who opened this particular show. New Haven’s M.T. Bearington are a group that I’ve heard a lot about in the local scene, but I had never given them a serious listen until I saw them last night. While I didn’t go in with high expectations, I have to say that I was honestly blown away by their performance. The quartet played as an impressively cohesive unit, delivering song after song of catchy and emotive indie pop that called to mind a more danceable, jangly version of Okkervil River. I’m buying their new record as soon as I can find a copy, and I highly suggest that anyone who’s reading this do the same.
After M.T. Bearington’s excellent opening set, Grandchildren took the stage for theirs. The six-member band took a long time to set up, due in no small part to the sheer amount of equipment they had on stage. With two guitars, two drumsets, two vintage analog keyboards, a sampler, a bass, a trombone, and more effects pedals than you can shake a stick at, the band was packed in pretty tight up on the relatively small stage. It must have been hell for the sound engineer that night to mix all of that noise last night, and the sound understandably suffered somewhat because of that. The band also didn’t seem very tight, at least coming up on the heels of the locked-in opening band. Despite these understandable issues, Grandchildren’s set was really impressive as well. Their aesthetic, a take on psychedelic pop that leaned much more to the “psychedelic” side, was incredibly refreshing to hear, and they got the crowd going quite wild despite not having many previous fans in the area.
Although they couldn’t exactly be described as “raucous”, Grandchildren definitely brought a needed energy to the night’s events. They set a lively standard for the headliner and got the audience excited. Despite this, the crowd still had to warm up a little by the time Man Man went on. Maybe it was just the fact that they opened with a string of songs from their new LP Life Fantastic, but the energy seemed relatively low at the beginning of the headlining set. Although the setlist was kind of strangely sequenced at first, I thought that the four Life Fantastic tracks that they opened with were some of my favorite tracks on the album. They opened with the album’s creeping title track, but the song’s explosive, high tempo midsection went disappointingly unrealized without the participation of the audience. “Piranha’s Club” upped the ante a little bit with its catchy chorus and faster pace, but still failed to garner an impressive reaction from the audience. Thankfully, things began to really pick up steam when they played “Dark Arts”, my favorite song from the new album and one of my favorite Man Man songs in general. The song sounded fantastic in the live setting, and its aggressive sound seemed to resonate more with the crowd.
The band would go on to play quite a few more Life Fantastic songs later in the night, which might have disappointed some older fans. Personally, I thought the new songs sounded great. The band seemed to really enjoy playing them too, engaging in wild onstage antics that included iconic vocalist Honus Honus donning gold slippers and a lacey green shawl and throwing feathers and confetti at the audience during the performance of the Life Fantastic murder ballad “Haute Tropique”. Later on, he climbed on top of a speaker stack with a kazoo.
The rest of the setlist was largely culled from the band’s 2008 record Rabbit Habits, in addition to a couple songs from Six Demon Bag, my favorite Man Man release. Hearing the hit “Top Drawer” sent the audience into full blown mosh-mode, transforming the night from a fun and quirky rock show into an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. “Rabbit Habits” followed without the energy diminishing whatsoever, and it seemed that the show was truly underway. The audience had tapped into that same seemingly undying resource that the band had been culling their energy from since the beginning. The setlist was perfect from this point, moving along with the Middle Eastern-tinged Six Demon Bag highlight “Banana Ghost”, a big crowd pleaser that incited a number of stage dives and crowd-surfs. The soulful “Doo Right” provided a brief respite in the form of a crowd-wide singalong, and also garnered a tremendous reaction from the audience.
My personal highlight from the night came towards the very end. Before briefly leaving the stage, the band brought out the classic “Black Mission Goggles”, a great older song from Six Demon Bag. Since I hadn’t heard many of my favorite older Man Man songs that night, I was really excited to hear that track. Since I was in the front row, I hopped up on stage and promptly jumped off, passionately singing along. Much to my surprise, I was carried across the crowd for at least 40 seconds. It felt like I was up there for hours, and it was a really wonderful moment for me. In retrospect, that was easily the best crowd-surfing experience I’ve ever had, and one that I won’t soon forget. After they finished the song, they exited the stage but left a weird little looped beat on via the sampler. They returned soon after with two horn players from Grandchildren, filling out the impressive Man Man roster for a final performance of Rabbit Habits’ horn-laden “Big Trouble”. I had to duck out just before the end of the song, but I’m fairly certain that it was the last one they played.
I’ll be honest, I would have loved to hear some more old songs last night, but I’m definitely not complaining. Their new album Life Fantastic may be somewhat toned down in comparison to Man Man’s earlier output, but their performance last night was anything but. If anything, a show like this is the kind of thing that should reaffirm older fans’ faith in this delightfully bizarre group. The stylistic weirdness that made Man Man such an interesting oddity among their stale indie rock peers may be lacking in their recent studio output, but it has clearly not gone away entirely.
Setlist (I missed a couple — It was hard to keep track once the crowd started going crazy):
- 1. Life Fantastic
- 2. Piranha’s Club
- 3. Dark Arts
- 4. Haute Tropique
- 5. ???
- 6. Top Drawer
- 7. Rabbit Habits
- 8. Banana Ghost
- 9. Bangkok Necktie
- 10. Shameless
- 11. Doo Right
- 12. ???
- 13. Black Mission Goggles
- 14. Big Trouble (Encore)
View more photos of Man Man along with their opening bands from this show over at the Lewis and his Blog facebook page. You’re going to want to check these out.